When newscasters mention Utah's economy, they usually insert a sort of “man on the street” “ain't things tough” tone, but emphasize one rosy fact – our unemployment figures. It is true that Utah's current unemployment rate of 7.5% is a hair lower than the national average of 9.1% (seasonally adjusted). Utah: the beehive state! Home of industry, land of rugged, independent workers who aren't afraid to help their fellow men when in need. An example for the nation, right?
Well, according to a very well-researched report by Lee Davidson at the Salt Lake Tribune, things are not so rosy. Astonishingly titled “Utah median income drops below 1997 level,” it reads (in part):
Back in 1997, Bill Clinton began his second term as president. The first Harry Potter novel appeared. Gasoline cost $1.30 a gallon. The median household income in Utah was $57,938 in 2010 dollars. Now, 14 years later, Utah’s median income has dropped below that level. In 2010, it was $56,787, or $1,151 lower than in 1997, according to census data released this week.
In the aforementioned article James A. Wood also notes that wages have stagnated since the 90s, while household standards of living have been kept artificially high by a glut of credit that is now beginning to dry up, leaving many households underwater on their mortgages or without a home at all.
It's not just tent cities in Las Vegas or vast swathes of foreclosed, abandoned homes in the Mojave, stripped of copper wiring and saleable fixtures like ancient carcasses. Every day, every where, people are getting eaten alive by economic conditions that have been a half century in the planning and decades in the execution. Every time I hear “in the new economy” from a television commercial or a pundit or even some passer-by in the street, it sends a chill up my spine.
It hasn't always been this way. It doesn't always have to be this way.